What I Mean When I Say ‘My City’

When I got into work on Monday morning, I wrote a quick email to my friend- “I totally forgot about MM until I was driving in today, the traffic was nonexistent, I was almost on time even! I hope you are out there enjoying the day and not stuck in a boring office like me”. Reading that now, and other things I wrote in the next hours and days, feels like it’s an artifact from another world. These are all like markers of time, Who I Was Before the Bombings, Who I Was Before the Terrorists Were Identified, Who I Was Before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Was Taken Alive in a Boat in That Guy’s Backyard.

I feel like a radically different person emerged after each of these events, and I can’t really figure Who I Am Now, but I’m trying.

The next time I spoke to that friend was later that afternoon when I was frantically calling my friends and family that I knew to be working in the area or watching the marathon. There still wasn’t much news about what had happened, I just got a text from a friend that said, “Explosions- so many ambulances. Oh my god.” I thought maybe there was a gas line explosion or a construction accident. I brought up the news on my phone just as heads started popping up around the department floor, we’re worried gophers whenever something happens outside. “Did you hear the Marathon was bombed?” “Hey! What’s going on, did you guys see this?” Everyone is concerned, and confused. Why would anyone bomb the Marathon?

At home later that afternoon I watched the coverage, seeing the explosions over and over from different angles. I foolishly clicked links that acquaintances posted on Facebook, ignoring the ‘graphic’ warnings, and saw things I will never erase from my mind. I cried, hard, for the entire afternoon. Wolf Blitzer confirmed that one of the dead included an 18 year old, and I thought Oh god, just a kid. With his whole life ahead of him and my chest started to hurt. And then he corrected himself and said that it wasn’t an 18 year old, it was an 8 year old. I thought nothing. I just heard a long drawn out piiiiiiiiinnnnggg noise in my head and I fell down sobbing and slapping at my face as if that would stop the flow of tears. Not a baby, not a little eight year old kid. I had been bargaining with the Universe on my drive home, saying “Ok, ok but as long as there aren’t any kids.”

I started my bargaining over and over again. “What if it was just a mistake? What if someone just wanted to scare people and it all went horribly wrong?” I can’t understand feeling that depth of hatred, how broken a person must be to do that to another person. I think, it has to have been a mistake. And then the reports came out that the bombs were homemade, and filled with prepared shrapnel, BBs and nails and pieces of metal, in order to do MORE damage. And they were placed at the time the plodders would be coming through, when the professionals were long gone and just the families and well wishers would be there at the finish line. From the jump it felt so personal, and I don’t think I can explain that to anyone unless they’re from Boston, or spent a good amount of time here.

The Boston Marathon is a huge event, of course. But it’s not what you think of when you think of a target for a terrorist. It’s symbolic and it’s about the most American thing I can think of at the moment, but it’s not something that belongs to all of America the way New York City exists symbolically. The Boston Marathon is…ours.

This is what I keep thinking of, how the first words of everyone I know were along the lines of, “No, no. Not in my city. Not in MY city.” And this is what I wrote that first day:

Why do we say “mine”? Why is the first thought “No, not in my city”? How much of it can really be mine, any more than it belongs to my neighbors? Why is it so much harder to witness or hear accounts of these horrors when they hit so close to home?

I know what an IED is. I know the wreckage that can tear through a group of soldiers. I have seen the pictures, I’ve read the accounts, I’ve traced the scars. Why is it scarier when it’s on my sidewalk?

I have memories on Boylston and that identify that place as a part of my experience. Nothing dramatic or even remarkable enough to recount here, just that I know that place and it exists as something specific and something that is inherently mine. Just like the sidewalk in front of my childhood home, just like the fence behind the baseball diamond where I’d hide and peel apart leaves. I know this place and I have interacted with it and I absorbed it into myself as part of my story. I can’t reconcile the images I’m seeing and the stories I’m hearing because it feels like it’s happening inside my body, inside a part of me. I can’t shake this feeling of violation and horror, and yet I can’t stop looking at the images. Look what happened to me and my body, it feels like looking at my own blood. I can’t comprehend it.

It hits on a biological level, the fear for my very survival. There is no amount of hope or awe at the bravery and kindness of first responders and strangers-and that stuff is amazing, truly-that can unwrap the icy feeling from my spine that my home is not safe. My body, my mind, the smiles of strangers are not safe.

I don’t discount the resiliency of human beings, and I don’t think this will destroy us. But I don’t feel hopeful or benevolent or proud or vengeful, not yet. I will in time. Right now I feel small and scared and I want that to be ok, too.

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